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Restaurants & Bars 1


MLS | Mar 29, 2004 05:38 PM

Fuse is a new restaurant in the Hotel 71 on Wacker Drive. The chef is Eric Aubriot formerly of Escargot and Aubriot. We had a spectacular meal there a week ago Saturday. When I told my son that the appetizer and entree were among the best I had ever had anywhere, his immediate response was that must involve fois gras in some manner. How true!
Upon entering Fuse the overall darkness seems more like a chic late night club. There are a few amorphous cream colored sconces on a wall that is separated by triangular light columns that exude an almost medieval red glow that reminds me of the color scheme at "Eat Your Hearts Out," Debbie Sharpe's original Wicker Park eatery before Feast, Confusion, and Feast 2. (Boy, I liked those first two restaurants!) Once at your table though, little halogen spotlights way up in the ceiling wash each table in a pool of light that made menu reading very easy and created an intimacy for each table.
A amuse-gueule of baby asparagus in a light butter/cream sauce (I know that sounds oxymoronic, but somehow it worked) tantalized the palate for the richness that was to follow.
When you go to a restaurant, particularly a fine dining place, there is a certain amount of pressure to order well. Sometimes for any variety of reasons you won't order a particular special or house specialty and regret it later for having ordered badly. And you don't know until after the meal is over. With no shred of caution or compromise, I ordered well.
We expected the appetiser of fois gras with bittersweet chocolate to be similar to a mole sauce, but it was just like the sauce one might find on a dessert. But the flavor worked superbly being a nice change from the usual, if fois gras can ever be usual, fruit based sauce. I don't think the fois gras was any better prepared than say at Cyrano's and was probably even a little smaller, but the richness of fois gras and chocolate made this really special. I sopped up every drop with the restaurant baked assortment of flatbreads, foccacias, and tiny biscuits. Oh yes, my wife and daughter had a spring salad with poached pears, figs, and some fancy muenster cheese that they thought was very good, but maybe overpriced at $10.
Showing no respect for my LDL, I ordered sweetbreads with fois gras as my entree. The sweetbreads were a substantial portion cooked simply and simply perfectly to the right consistency, not always an easy task. The fois gras was a small piece, maybe an ounce, on a toast point lightly smeared with pesto. The different sauce, the combination of the "fat with fat" as the chef says, even the accompanying cauliflower in, whatelse, cream sauce made for an equisite, decadent course-one of the best dishes I have ever had.
My wife and daughter had braised short ribs and loin of lamb respectively. Unfortunately for "a Tavola" this course was compared to theirs which we had last month. No comparison; as much as we liked the barolo reduction at the Ukrainian Village boite, Fuse's rib was much meatier, the preparation hardier, if that's possible, and pared much more appropriately with a parsnip puree and tiny brussels sprouts than the saffron risotto. The loin of lamb, pared with some interesting veggies like eggplant caviar, was moist, flavorful, and devoured. Both of the latter entrees were sufficiently large to have substantial leftovers.
The dessert carte is filled with complex, even fussy concoctions that look way too busy, but each seemed to work. My wife and daughter had sweet scrumptous things most of which involved chocolate, including a chocolate mango tart which was appreciated even though the latter ingredient wasn't noticable. I normally don't order dessert, but inspite of there being no fois gras in the carte, the waiter's description of one dessert was too intriguing to pass up. The name eludes me but included the word "cabrales," which I believe to be a Mexican goat cheese that was used to make tiny biscuits that ended up a little salty, and quite peppery. They were served with poached pears, pecans rolled in cayenne pepper, and a small dollop of ice cream topped with a potato chip thin pear crosssection that had been dried and sugared. Amazingly all those disparate tastes melded together into a memorable dish.
Portion sizes were perfect given the richness of the cuisine; otherwise I'd have been asleep at the Goodman (to which it is very convenient)in no time.
Fuse will not have a liquor license until April 9 at the earliest, but consider that serendipitous. All the patrons there were well aware and had their own wines, some being very inventive with splits of champagne (I was impressed), whites with reds, and multiple reds. I am going to try to go again before they obtain their license, making sure to include a sweet wine for fois gras, probably Banyul, a white suitable for some of the cold appetizers, a good versatile red (we had a very good St. Emilion), and even an eau de vie. But I won't be going to the theater afterwards. Sure it's probably excessive, but how often can you BYOB at a fine dining place. And this is fine dining at its finest.
Fuse was not cheap, $190 w/ tip for three, no alcohol, but to my mind a good value.

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